opium poppy

The headlines are nonstop. We are told that people are dying every day because of abuse of opioid analgesics. There are tragic stories about overdose deaths. This makes lawmakers want to crack down and make it harder for doctors to prescribe such medications and people to access them. Some people, like this reader, are caught in the cross fire of the opioid epidemic.

Q. What are people in chronic pain going to do now that the pendulum has swung toward not prescribing opiates for those in chronic pain?

As a hospice nurse I frequently see patients suffering from terminal cancer pain. I myself am a chronic pain patient and am scared to death that I will no longer be able to get adequate relief from severe pain.

Is anyone with compassion overseeing agencies such as the DEA, insurance companies or government policy makers?

A. Regulators are caught on the horns of a terrible dilemma. On the one hand they are dealing with an opioid epidemic. There are scary headlines about abuse of drugs like oxycodone (OxyContin) or fentanyl. Overdose deaths are reported almost every day.

DEA Cracks the Whip:

As a result of the opioid epidemic, policy makers have cracked down on drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone. The Drug Enforcement Administration has made it harder for physicians to prescribe such medications for people dealing with chronic pain. Many doctors are now fearful to prescribe these drugs for more than a few weeks.

Many patients suffering long-term severe pain are having a hard time getting relief. We have heard from hundreds of people who never abused opioids or increased their dose.

Stories from Readers:

Kay in Seattle, Washington:

“I had a terrible slip & fall in the shower 6 years ago and for 4 years following that accident, I had relentless pain, my mobility decreased, I gained weight and slowly slipped into a very scary, dark place emotionally and mentally.

“Luckily and by the grace of God, I found a combination of a good pain doctor and 2 specialists in alternative therapies that have slowly but surely helped me to start to regain my life back. I am not 100% but I am a lot better.

“It makes me so sad because I know there are people out there who have not been able to find medical professionals that can help and/or will really listen. Reading about people in pain who cannot access treatment makes my chest tighten up, my heart ache and brings tears to my eyes.

“I shudder to think where I might be had I not found help. Pain meds work for people who need them & the people who need them should be able to get them without being put through the 3rd degree. They feel bad enough already without being denied and shamed by the government or medical professionals.”

Jan in Alaska writes:

“I have worked in the Carpenters Union for over 20 years. I have also been in three rear end collisions. Between these injuries and osteoarthritis I would not be able to function if it weren’t for opioids I would never get any sleep. If you cannot sleep you cannot function.

“I have NEVER over used, or abused my prescriptions. I feel I am suffering because of the actions of others.”

Jackie in South Carolina has an interesting perspective on a powerful drug:

“I am going on 80 years of age and have been taking oxycodone on and off for several years for chronic back pain. Before I reach for the oxycodone I try everything else in my ‘arsenal’ like heat patches, Tylenol, ice packs…you name it…and if they don’t relieve my pain I take the opioid.

“There are trade offs. Constipation, a slight hangover in the morning, etc. No one has to protect me from myself and I resent someone unrelated and uninformed about my medical condition having the power to dictate how much pain I must tolerate.

“What are we to do without the option of oxycodone and the like? Lie awake through the night and suffer? People who find a way to abuse that particular substance will just turn to something else with possibly greater consequences. Who, then, is better off?”

The People’s Pharmacy Perspective:

Sadly, there are no simple solutions to the challenging dilemma of the opioid epidemic. It is not clear that restricting access to these drugs for people in severe chronic pain will end the opioid abuse problem in America. Sadly, we do not have great alternative strategies for dealing with this kind of pain.

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  1. Susan H.

    I fractured my back in my early thirties (I am a senior citizen now), and over the years have suffered a series of traumatic-to-catastrophic events that, but for an ongoing prescription for oxycodone, would have left me either bedridden or dead by my own hand.

    Despite irrefutable evidence of need (my x-rays alone are a medical horror story), it took me nearly ten years of despondent suffering to find a physician ethical enough to disregard the onerous federal restrictions and just write me the damned prescription. My dosage and usage have not wavered in twenty-plus years I’ve used it. This cheap, effective drug has given me my life back. During that time, I’ve raised my children to responsible adulthood, built several successful businesses, patented a scientific process, and written an award-winning best seller.

    I defy anyone to tell me my quality of life has been diminished, or my contribution to society nullified because of my drug “habit”. Please don’t blame opioids for the socially irresponsible idiots who ABUSE them; it’s not as if anyone in the United States hasn’t had it drummed into their head since kindergarten that the misuse of opiate drugs can (and likely WILL) harm or kill you. They can also save your life.

  2. Douglas

    This is the first publication I have seen that shows that there are millions who use these MEDICATIONS and DO NOT abuse them. Why not? Because we use them to improve our lives and to be as productive as our conditions permit. The idea of “recreation” is ridiculous to those of us who need the mediating effect these medication provide.

  3. Julie

    I agree with the previous posters. The policy currently in effect penalizes those of us with legitimate, medical documented chronic pain, in order to hopefully save a few addicts. If only it were that easy.

    An addict will go to any lengths to obtain their high and if they can’t get it through one drug, they will try another, or several. An addict is not going to say, “Oh man, I used to steal my grandma’s pain medication for my high, but now her doctor won’t give her anymore. Oh well, I guess I will just stop using.”

    The new restriction will most likely not help addicts (there is no proof that it will). It is just adding to the grief, and pain, of those of us already suffering.

  4. Patty
    Pacific NW

    This policy turns patients into criminals, and physicians into DEA agents. As a chronic pain sufferer for many years due to osteoarthritis and a complex craniotomy, I have welcomed the occasional relief provided by an opioid. That small window of pain-free time allows me to live a “normal” life–one without an ice-pack and/or high doses of NSAIDs. I can’t fathom the anxiety and physical trauma that cancer patients suffer from this policy, my heart goes out to those folks.

  5. Kathleen

    I was using Anatabloc, an herbal from the nightshade family. It’s an exceptional anti inflammatory without any obvious side effects. The FDA recalled it so GNC no longer sells it. It was recalled on a technicality; They were simultaneously selling it as an anti inflammatory while using it in Alzheimer’s studies. I think they should change this law, if it is a law. I have found nothing better for my Fibromyalgia pain, headache or any other pain that doesn’t require narcotics.

  6. J L H

    There was just a piece on National news about an experimental program in a nursing home which is using medical marijuana in pill form. 98 year old people in wheelchairs and walkers were testifying to the fact that they had cut their opioid use significantly, felt calmer and more positive. Personally, since I live in a legal mj state, I tried a chocolate that is anti spasmodic – no high but my back and hip pain is way better.

  7. James
    New Jersey

    I have nerve root damage at L5 and get severe pain and spams/cramps in my legs, especially when I try to sleep. Of course, I use heat and cold, try to exercise–walking, recumbent bike, weight-lifting–to reduce pain and maintain mobility and strength. However without oxycodone I would not be able to walk or bike as I do. The medicine is the minimum dose and done only 2x a day, as needed On a ‘bad’ day, it is a godsend! My doctor monitors my use of meds closely and every so often I am tested to be sure I take the meds and do not sell them.

  8. Rich
    Houghton, MI

    I have sympathy for those who need pain meds and are having difficulty obtaining them. I had chronic pain for 18 years until the right doctor found a physical cause for the pain. Your recent guest, Dr. Hansom, pointed out that chronic pain can be a habit our nervous system has gotten into. In my case my chronic neck, shoulder and arm pain ended the day I saw the x-ray showing the tumor in my radius bone, not two weeks later when I had it removed. Knowing the cause for the pain and knowing that it would be fixed, I didn’t need the pain anymore.
    People are dying of overdose because the drugs are illegal and they don’t know what they are getting on the black market. A truly compassionate response to the opioid epidemic would end prohibition, shaming and punishment and turn to harm reduction based policies.

  9. Sandra H.

    As a chronic pain patient, I do have my concerns that the baby will be thrown out with the bath water. My greater concern is the number of patients who have cancer and other severe pain conditions will be seeking physician assisted suicide as their only way out of pain.That would be such a tragedy of severe proportions.

    We really need to put more resources into safe pain management and comfort for those in pain and not punish them for those who have problems of addiction. More research could be addressing why people are so unhappy with their lives they seek solace in drugs. This is a major, major societal problem and tragedy.

  10. mak

    Who thought it was a good idea to develop slow release opiates? Really? These drugs stay in your system for long periods of time. Shouldn’t these drugs leave your system before takingNother dose? Isn’t it common sense that slow release would lead to addiction?

  11. Samuel

    Not unlike the 18th amendment to the Constitution banning alcohol the bans on opiates may possibly save an addicts life here and there, no one really knows as the addict will always find another source with the difference being the increasing cost of the illegal product leading to criminal behaviors to obtain the substance.

    Chronic pain patients who have never tested for any illegal drug substance in the time they have taken opiates for severe pain are told you no longer may receive scripts for the drug that provides a semblance of life, a more active existance, a life without the torture of the grinding, immobilizing, intractable pain or less of it.

    When drug control/management was moved from the scientists and doctors to a police agency, the DEA, the thought is to enforce a law not assist pain patients in a compassionate and caring way. The DEA has no idea how we suffer and really doesn’t care in my opinion. They bow to the pressure of the new PC: NO OPIATES! PERIOD unless you have a terminal disease. Well, the deaths by suicide will increase, that is sure given the fact that the chronic pain patient has no option available to them in this climate. And to think they are hanging their collective hats on saving lives, sadly ironic.

  12. Ellie

    I’ve posted before that an alternate to opioids for chronic pain is medical marijuana. If your state has legalized medical MJ, do consider looking into it in as an alternative to opioid dependency. Even hemp oil, which is legal in all 50 states, might be of help.

  13. Lynn

    I agree totally with the ones who don’t abuse them being restricted. I don’t take Hydrocodone regularly but do take one or 1/2 half tab if I am at a level 10. I will never be addicted because I also will try heat, ice packs and Tylenol first. My Doctor knows I only take when no other choice is possible. She can tell when you don’t refill the RX for a year I don’t abuse it. I used to get 100 but is now 50. The total is also lowered.
    Thank you for this web site I have learned so much and am now off many drugs I have taken for years. Prilosec being the worst to get off. I am still not over the effects of this horrible drug. The drug was wonderful but the long term use has terrible side effects and coming off is a nightmare.

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